The Fletcher Opera Institute here just completed a run of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. It’s my first encounter with the show, which won the first Tony for Best Original Score in 1947. Weill seems to have put everything he knew into it – it’s not an opera that says “here’s who I am” as much as it says “here’s what I can do.” Pucciniesque ensembles rub elbows with blues arias and a very long Broadway dance number – it’s a musical portrait of the cultural melting pot that was so much a part of this nation’s self-image in the mid-twentieth century.

Thursday was opening night, and the huge cast (I counted 31 roles) brought things off swimmingly. Everything went without a hitch until twenty minutes into the second act, when the orchestra suddenly stopped, the singers froze onstage, and the house manager stepped into the audience to announce that a tornado had touched down nearby. He asked us all to get out of our seats and move into the most contained areas of the building. I turned my phone on, and my wife called shortly after: 70 mph winds were battering our house, the power had gone out, and she was huddled in the pitch-black basement with our baby and our puzzled toddler. Naturally, I wanted to run out to the car and get home as quickly as possible, but we weren’t allowed to leave the building. The lights flickered off and on a few times. Gradually, though, as happens with these things, apprehension turned to tedium, as reports of new waves of severe storms spread through the corridor. After an hour and a half, I ventured to the doors, saw that things had calmed down, and headed out to the parking lot. By the time I got home just past midnight, the winds were gone, the rain had all but stopped, and lightning chuckled harmlessly off to the east.

Sunday afternoon we had another tornado watch in effect, but I took a deep breath and headed out to see the matinee, so I could catch the rest of the show. The production was really fine, but I can’t say the whole thing hangs together particularly well. It’s an enormous, ungainly piece of musical theater – and I know its ungainliness is part of the point. I do love, though, the accompanied spoken dialogue – Weill created a very effective underpinning for the text, punching back at verbal jabs with orchestral responses. I suppose the problem could be laid at the libretto’s feet. I don’t know the original play, but it seems to be a mistake to let the playwright adapt his own work – of course he’s going to think that every line is indispensable.

The whole show takes place on the sidewalk in front of a tenement, with glimpses of goings-on through the windows of the building. The effect is as claustrophobic as an outdoor set can be. After the extended rounds of applause died down, I was grateful (and relieved) to step out into the light breeze and sunshine of a lovely May afternoon.

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